Posts by Tag / Thought (203)

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Assist Mode is great; I’d like a Forgive Mode too.

I applaud the intent behind Celeste’s Assist Mode that allows for tweaking aspects of the game and lets players of varying skill level and physical capability enjoy overcoming an appropriate challenge. And I hate to come across as complaining about it. But the fact is that Celeste is a game that I found very frustrating and I wasn’t able to fix that with Assist Mode - because Assist Mode doesn’t let you tune punishment.

Celeste is a precision platformer. You have a set of abilities: running, jumping, wall-jumping, wall-climbing, and an air dash. Some abilities are limited and get refreshed by standing on solid ground. You must use these tools to get through a series of platforming challenges in varied environments with their own varied mechanics, such as platforms that move when you air dash or midair gems that replenish your abilities without you needing to land.

Most challenges in Celeste really have two parts: the puzzle of figuring out how to use your limited abilities and the particular environment to navigate each obstacle course, and then actually executing your solution with precise timing and positioning. To use my own terminology, this is a tactical challenge (figuring out what to do) followed by an action challenge (doing it). They are difficult in different ways and can separately be interesting/dull or hard/easy to individual players.

This is risky, because it means a player has to enjoy and be sufficiently competent at both the tactical and the action challenges in order to enjoy and progress through the game. Someone who likes charting a path through each screen but then lacks the reflexes to actually follow that path is not going to have a good time.

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Climbing the Mountain Because It's... Wait, Where Is It Again?

For me, a lot of Celeste’s difficulty felt unintentional.

First, some background about me: I have a terrible sense of direction. It’s hard for me to build mental maps of areas and to visualize where locations and landmarks are in relation to each other - and thus to figure out how to get from one place to another.

In the neighborhood where I grew up, I was once asked for directions to a building that was literally next door to where we were standing. I pointed in the wrong direction. This is not an atypical example.

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3DS Stress

After six years, the circle pad finally broke off my 3DS XL. It happened while I was playing Tri Force Heroes with two friends and quickly put an end to our game (though I suspect most of the damage had actually been done playing Smash over previous years).

If this had happened a couple of years earlier, I would have taken it as an excuse to upgrade to a New 3DS model. But now - this Tri Force Heroes session was the first action my 3DS had seen since I bought a Switch (and the first non-Picross action it had seen in longer). Could I justify the expense of a new device (Nintendo no longer offers repairs for 3DS models as old as mine) that I didn’t have any expectation I’d actually use?

Yesterday I saw a good deal on a refurbished New 2DS XL and was tempted, but decided to pass. And apparently I felt so bad about this that last night I had a dream that I was back in school and my teacher was yelling at me for not having a 3DS because we were studying Tri Force Heroes in class and I needed to follow along.

#gaming #video games #nintendo #3ds

Tags: Thought

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Black Hole Stunt

So. Like. I’ve never played Fortnite. I’m not really their target market. And if I had any doubt of that, the events of the past few days confirmed it.

Because if I did play Fortnite
If it was how I blew off steam and connected with my friends…
If I’d spent money on in-game currency and gear…
If I were a streamer who relied on the game to make content, and in turn provided free marketing for it…

I would be pissed that they took the game down for multiple days as a marketing stunt.

And it would not exactly instill me with confidence that this was an ecosystem in which I should invest time, money, or effort, and certainly not one I should rely on being around and available.

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Look How Far You’ve Come

One of my favorite game tropes is what I call the “Look How Far You’ve Come” sequence that shows up shortly before the ending.

It can be done a variety of ways, but in some manner it reintroduces areas, characters, enemies, or other story elements that you haven’t seen in a while, emphasizing what’s changed and what hasn’t, reminding you where your journey began and how far it’s taken you. It’s a great way for games to add weight, consequence, and meaning to your adventure and actions while making the ending that much more climactic.

One of my favorite examples actually comes from Dragon Quest Heroes II. (Minor spoiler alert for the rest of this paragraph.) In the lead-in to the final battle, you essentially go through a nostalgia gauntlet - fighting groups of monsters from each area of the game, in the order you explored them. The fights are easy and clearly more of a reminder than a skill test, and over the course of them every single one of your accumulated party members speaks up about your travels together.

It’s more common for this sort of reflection to be presented in cinematics after beating the game. But I find it more impactful when you can actually play through it. Which of course is why EarthBound has the best ending of any video game, ever.

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Sayonara Wild Brains

I just wrote about how personal variation can result in wildly different experiences of the same game, and now I find I have to force myself to remember this when reading reviews for Sayonara Wild Hearts.

This is a well-received game, with Metascores ranging from 81 on iOS (where the game is part of Apple Arcade) to 82 on Switch and 85 on PS4. I haven’t read every review, but the only substantive complaint in most of the ones I’ve seen is that the game is over too quickly. Whereas I would sum the game up as “beautiful, but only barely playable.”

It has readability problems that make Runner3 look like CliffsNotes. The rules, physics, controls, and camera angles are constantly changing in ways that look great but make it impossible for the player to find a rhythm until they have all the unpredictability memorized. Missing score pickups just costs you points, but hitting obstacles rewinds the song a couple of seconds for you to try again, and if you have to try too many times you can just skip that part of the song - both of which damage the “interactive album” experience.

I feel like if Sayonara Wild Hearts wanted to be a rhythm game, it should have been more readable. And if it wanted to be a playable pop album, it shouldn’t have had failure modes. The compromise we got results in an unfair rhythm game and an album that keeps interrupting itself.

This also feels really obvious to me. Like, when I look at this game, I don’t see how anyone could have come to a different conclusion about it. But while it’s certainly tempting to conclude that all of those reviewers were just wowed by the game’s superficial aspects, I have to admit it’s more likely that my brain is different from theirs, even if I don’t know exactly how.

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Different Games for Different Brains

I’m starting to think that most of the heated debates that happen around game design choices are due to poorly-understood differences in how our brains are actually wired.

Like, I’ve written before about how some people hate punishment in games and others don’t and how this seems to be related to how we process tension, and how it’s easy to think someone else is a wimp or a masochist for the type of gameplay they like when it actually feels different to them than it does to you. But I realized there are other factors here too - punishment is worse for players who have trouble focusing on things that aren’t novel, which, like… that’s straight-up an ADHD symptom, right? I’ve never been diagnosed with ADHD, but I’ve got a couple of symptoms including that one. Allie has more symptoms, and she’s even more bothered by punishment and repetition in games than I am.

I’ve also talked about how I don’t like games that make you work to find the quality content in exchange for a sense of discovery that rings false for me. But when I saw the following mailbag question in a Shamus Young diecast post, I realized there was something else going on:

Dear Diecast.

The modern Persona games are lauded for their fusion of turn-based combat and social sim gameplay, but I’ve always been bothered by the social sim aspect. It’s less about roleplaying and more about puzzling out the spreadsheet nightmare the designers have conceived so you don’t miss out on story content and have to replay it in new game plus to see it. As such, I always play them with my head in a guide to negate the issue so I can instead focus on enjoying the combat and story.

What’s your thoughts on games that are hard to play properly without using a guide and have you ever found them enjoyable in spite of needing to look things up constantly?

-Victor

My immediate thought was that yeah, I feel the same way about Persona and that this kind of design is stupid in general as just another way to make you work to find the quality content - but I made myself take a step back. It’s not very likely that the designers of several incredibly-popular games are all just making the same obvious mistake over and over and the fans somehow don’t understand the resulting flaws. It’s much more likely that this is another case where players have different but legitimate preferences.

Victor’s question has assumptions baked in - that if you “miss out on story content” you then “have to replay it in new game plus to see it” and that seeing all the story content is the only way to “play properly”. I didn’t notice at first that these were assumptions, because I’m a completionist so to me (and I imagine Victor) they just feel true. Like Victor, I find it hard to enjoy a game if I’m constantly worried that I’ll miss content - particularly story content - particularly if it’s a story I’m enjoying. Like Victor, I often deal with this by using a guide and then lament that the game “requires” a guide.

But like… that seems like something in the area of anxiety or OCD, maybe? I’m not sure exactly what the divide is here, but roughly speaking I suspect some people prefer certainty and control (the completionists) and others prefer exploration and surprise. For the latter group of players, the fact that it’s possible to miss some story content based on your choices is a bonus - it means that you can actually be surprised by what you see, even if you return to play the game again. To me, this is a baffling way of looking at things - but some quick internet research shows plenty of evidence that some people like surprises, some people hate them, and many people in each group do not at all understand the people in the other.

A lot of us have trouble explaining what happens in our own heads, and it’s difficult to realize when something you thought was universal is only true for people with brains like yours. And it’s really hard to see where someone else is coming from if your disagreement stems from one of those things. A lot of the time we’re arguing about things like game design decisions, we’re being much more subjective than we realize, and that leads to heated and unproductive discussions that say more about ourselves than the thing we’re trying to talk about.

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Super Mario Maker 2 showed me why I don’t like 2D Mario

In short: its high strictness and punishment plus its regressive difficulty and locking mechanics behind power-ups make it frustrating to learn to play.

I’ve never really gotten into mainline Mario games, but I was intrigued by Super Mario Maker 2’s story mode, which apparently serves as a sort of extended level design tutorial. It features 120 levels each themed around particular level pieces or combinations thereof, showing you how to use them in play and hopefully providing inspiration for how to use them when creating your own levels. I find tutorial design really interesting, and Mario famously teaches through level design, so I checked it out.

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Suited for Friendship

So, I definitely miss the customization options in City of Heroes due to the fun of coming up with and designing hero concepts, but it recently occurred to me that they also served a useful social purpose.

I’ve joined a “Free Company” (read: guild) in Final Fantasy XIV and it seems like a group of good folks but it’s hard to break the ice and get conversations started and get to know people. Some of this is how bizarrely difficult it is to play together, but some of it is also that our names and character themes all feel… generic.

In City of Heroes, everyone who put effort into their character ended up with an expressive and distinctive concept, look, name, and battlecry - and there was a place you could write in a little bio or backstory for your character too, which other players could freely read. It was a great way for individual players to be more memorable and it presented plenty of conversation starters.

I still remember, for example, the player I teamed up with once in a pick-up group named Your Pal Phil, whose battlecry was “I’ll loan you the five bucks!”

I can’t tell you the name of anyone in my Free Company in FFXIV.